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Tiger Woods Can’t Possibly Win Again, Can He?

In a glut of sports offerings, wildly improbable victories are the ones that stick

Kirk Gibson all but used his bat as a cane when he came in as a pinch-hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

With a sore left hamstring and a swollen right knee, he looked like a 100-year-old man.

“He’s gotta use all arms,” Joe Garagiola Sr. said on the NBC broadcast.

Gibson did. He lunged at a 3-2 slider from Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley, and the ball shot off his bat and cleared the wall for a walk-off home run. It was his only at-bat of the Series, which the Dodgers won in five games, and the only one we remember.

The sporting achievements that endure often involve a limp and a prayer. Gibson’s dinger has been called the greatest moment in franchise history. Willis Reed, nursing a muscle tear in his thigh, willed the New York Knicks to victory in the 1970 NBA Finals. And a surgically repaired (and re-repaired and re-repaired) Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters.

Woods is coming off a seven-month break at this week’s Hero World Challenge, which benefits his foundation. Broken, fused and contused, he has played through his original factory parts. He hasn’t hit shots with a scorecard in hand since withdrawing from the Masters in April, after which he decamped for New York and ankle fusion surgery.

He’ll also turn 48 next month. How much could he possibly have left?

“My game feels rusty; I haven’t played in a while,” he said Tuesday at the Hero, where he walked gingerly to the dais. “… I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens because I haven’t done it in a while.”

But can he still win?

“Absolutely,” he said.

The Hero in December (or late November) has long been the occasion for such self-assessment, even more so since Woods became a living, breathing game of Operation.

Highlights from this year’s 30-minute State-of-the-Tiger included but were not limited to:

What did he think of his year?

“Six months of doing nothing (after surgery in April); that’s the hard part.”

How is he feeling?

“I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or pre-that in my ankle.”

How much might he play in ’24?

“I think that best scenario would be maybe a tournament a month,” he said, by far the biggest takeaway from the day. “I think that’s realistic, whether that’s – you would have to start with maybe at Genesis and something in March near THE PLAYERS.

“Again, we have set up right now the biggest events are one per month,” he added. “…Now, I need to get myself ready for all that. I think this week is a big step in that direction.”

Take all of this with a grain of bunker sand. Woods has played in just five tournaments since his 2021 car accident, completing 72 holes just twice. Uneven terrain and cold weather present a special challenge, and when you add the task of beating two-time defending Hero champ Viktor Hovland and the rest, the notion of Christmas coming early in the Bahamas seems downright fanciful.

And yet this is just the latest new beginning for a player who is used to starting over.

It seemed fanciful when Woods won the 2018 TOUR Championship, ending a five-plus-year victory drought as all of East Lake broke containment on the last hole. It seemed beyond fanciful when he won the 2019 Masters Tournament at age 43 for his first major title in over a decade.

Great athletes wind down, yes, but the greatness remains.

Woods has played 1,337 official PGA TOUR rounds, but with practice and casual play, you’d probably have to double that. Add amateur golf, and you could triple it. At five miles per round, it adds up to a 20,000-mile walk, or nine round trips between Southern California and Georgia, just to name two places where the legend grew (82 TOUR wins, 15 majors).

Oh, and he also parachuted out of airplanes and ran around in Army boots.

And so, the limp. Woods said he angled toward this latest comeback after he walked the equivalent of four tournament rounds as he caddied for his son, Charlie, at the recent Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship in Louisiana. He was sore, but such is life.

“I was still lifting and still doing a bunch of other things too alongside of that,” he said, “so in conjunction with that and during part of it, all my beach walks at home, just the accumulation, how could I recover, could I keep progressing at the same time, right?

“I was hitting golf balls a lot,” he continued, “trying to get Charlie ready for the event. And then post-event I started feeling, ‘You know what, I can probably do, so why not?’ Talked to the committee, and a committee of one was able to give me a spot.”

The best indicator of his confidence: He’ll not only play in the tournament proper, but he’ll also play in the Wednesday pro-am, meaning 90 holes in total.

Someone asked him about his pal Rafael Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam tennis champion who is 37.

“He knows that Father Time is here,” Woods said. “Every athlete faces it. Although some sports it happens faster than others, and unfortunately just like every sport, you get aged out.

“I don’t want to see him go,” he added.

We know the feeling.

Source : PGA Tour